BeingFemaleInNigeria: The viral hashtag, the tweets and my take on it


#BeingFemaleInNigeria is a hashtag that went viral in Nigeria just barely hours after it was first tweeted by members of a small book club. The hashtag started trending in many countries including UK. I would have loved for the hashtag to read ‘BeingaWomanInNigeria’ because the word ‘Female’ has its own social construct problem. However, i am over the moon that this very important conversation, which got the whole nation talking, was started by a very small book club.

The book club members had gathered to read their book of the month, an essay titled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Nigerian award winning author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. According to a member of the book club, Florence Warmate, the discussion got very interesting and members started sharing their personal experiences of sexism in Nigeria. They decided not to leave it there but start a conversation on social media about what it is like being a woman in Nigeria.

Florence Warmate posted her first tweet on the subject using the agreed hashtag #BeingFemaleInNigeria. Hours later, it was trending on twitter. It was interesting that a small group of women could ignite a national discussion via social media in a matter of hours. Clearly, it was a discussion Nigerian women (and some men too), were dying to have.

The hashtag resonated with almost every woman in Nigeria and outside too. It was an opportunity to talk about the things that bug us, tie us down, stands in our way and oppress us every day.

It was a golden opportunity to make our voices heard about the everyday sexism we encounter as Nigerian women in Nigeria.

It presented an excellent forum to share the casual sexism we have learned to accept as normal even though we know there is nothing normal about being treated as breeders, blamed for being raped, thrown out of our marital homes for only giving birth to girls and not boys.

Women are the ones who are asked to grin and bear it when husbands constantly cheat and we are the ones who are told to stay in domestic abusive relationships for the sake of the children.

We are the ones who are called ashewo, prostitute, ashi, runs girl, slut, judged by the way we dress or the type of cars we drive.

We are the ones whose career successes are attributed to sleeping with our male bosses.

We are the ones who are told to stop aiming for PHds because it would be intimidating to potential suitors and the only qualification that matters is how good we are in the kitchen department.

Yes, Nigerian women had a lot to say about being a woman in Nigeria and heck, did we say it!

From my personal experiences, I would say being a woman in Nigeria means-

1- #BeingFemaleInNigeria Having to conspicuously hold my Hilton cardkey every time I stepped out of my hotel room to avoid being called ashawo.

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Yeah, the last time I visited Nigeria and lodged at the five star Hilton Hotel, I had to always display my room card. I could not even go alone to the hotel bar to get a drink for fear of being harassed by security and all these roaming judgemental eyes!  BTW, I made sure to speak to the porters in a fake British accent and left my Heathrow bag tag on my luggage, so they know I be Tokunbo (from abroad). Anything not to be stopped and queried by those securities who assumed every woman around Hilton is a commercial sex worker.

BTW, I am a staunch supporter of sex workers. I have written about stigma and abuses they face and will continue to campaign for Rights for sex workers not Rescue and the need to organise sex workers within mainstream labour movement.  Sex worker, prostitute , Ashewo should not be used as a slur.

2- #BeingFemaleInNigeria- Unaccompanied woman in a hotel = Ashawo, never mind that you are there to present a paper on Global economic crisis!

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As an international trade unionist, I have stayed in hotels all around the world but there is something so uncomfortable about staying in hotels in Nigeria. You are an ashewo or ‘runs girl’ (Lady looking for sugar daddies to fund her lifestyle) until you are proven innocent.

3- #BeingFemaleInNigeria – Taxi man tries to swindle you, you complain, he screams ashawo at you as you alight outside your hotel.

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This happened to me during my last visit, I was so aghast and furious, and the only thing I could think to do was give him the middle finger as he drove off.

4- BeingFemaleInNigeria – Not having the luxury to go clubbing or drinking alone unless you don’t mind being called ashawo by judgmental eyes

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The number of times I had to beg my male colleagues to abandon whatever they were doing and escort me to our drinking joints or clubs! I guess their wives and girlfriends were not too happy with me.

5- BeingFemaleInNigeria- You must be sleeping with your married male boss, cos career success, nice car and promotion means pussypower!

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Even your family assumes this must be the case especially when you announce your new promotion or buy a new car. Your boss is male, rich and popular, it is expected that you sleep with him to get ahead, never mind that you are smart, one of the best in your field and of course who cares that your boss is very much married!

6- #BeingFemaleinNigeria Your married boss takes it or granted that you are gonna sleep with him

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Yeah, it is actually expected of him to sleep with his female employees, especially if he is rich. Not sharing the goodies would be considered selfish. He could be seen as less of a man and derogatorily called a ‘Born again’ Christian. He also knows if he does not at least make the move to get into your pants, tongues would wag and his virility would come into question. No man wants to be called impotent, not even Sheldon Cooper!

7- #BeingFemaleInNigeria Your female colleagues gather around to chastise you for wearing mini skirt. You wan tempt their office sugardaddies?

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True story, on my first day at work and from fellow female colleagues who identified as feminists too. What a joke!

8- #BeingFemaleInNigeria- “You are a man” becomes a compliment. Did i change sex cos women can’t be spectacular achievers while being women?

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Please understand that calling a woman “a man’ because of her achievements or courage is NOT A COMPLIMENT. Those words are nothing but an insult to the woman, her achievements and gender identity. You do not honour me by calling me “A Woman like a Man“, in fact with such words you deny my gender identity and degrade my biological sex. I am a Woman and Proudly so.I already made a post on this vexing issue, check it out here

9- #BeingFemaleinNigeria You are put in charge of food and drinks while your male colleagues are assigned important contracts for conferences

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Story of my work experience in Nigeria.

10- #BeingFemaleInNigeria- How can you call yourself a successful 30 something year old woman when you never marry?

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I will be 40 this August, an accomplished human being in my professional and personal life. Nevertheless, my personal life success would be questioned because I am an unmarried single mum. Never mind that my son, a lovely 20-year-old undergraduate law student in UK is set to be graduating with a first class in a few months. I am considered a failure for being an unmarried single mum at 40. Being a woman in Nigeria means, I am now officially a bitter old hag who turned into a lesbian because she could not get a man who would accept her big mouth, godless soul, and highly opinionated arse!

11- #BeingFemaleInNigeria What do you mean you never marry, abeg follow me to my pastor, we must rebuke the demons that are disturbing your life

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The fact that I am an atheist only makes them want to pray louder for me!

12- #BeingFemaleInNigeria What do you mean you don’t want children? That is not your portion o, not in this family! Wa bi mo we re! (You will give birth to many children!)

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Consciously deciding not to have children rank as one of the worst things any woman in Nigeria could say in public. Even your family member would scream at you and take your case to their pastor, imam and babalawos to find out if some demons have taken over your mind!

It is not surprising that some reactionary men have decided to make their own hashtag ‘BeingMaleInNigeria’, because ‘What about the Menz’! However, it is interesting to see that some men do get it and are indeed contributing positively to the discussion.

Below are some of the interesting, hilarious and thought provoking tweets. Read, enjoy and remember, we could make a difference by being the change we desire.

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